Week 8 features three games with postseason implications on the central peninsula, and thanks to the desire to get as much work as possible from a visiting officials crew, football fans will easily be able to attend all three.
Friday, Nikiski hosts Seward in a 5 p.m. contest that will determine the Denali Conference champion and the league’s lone berth to the Division III playoffs.
Saturday, Soldotna hosts Eagle River at 1 p.m. The Stars need to win to earn a 16th straight Northern Lights Conference title and a home playoff game in the Division II semifinals.
Later Saturday, Kenai Central hosts Barrow at 4 p.m. The game will determine third place in the Mid Alaska Conference, and thus the third and final of the conference’s spots in the Division III playoffs.
The final peninsula game of the week is Friday at 7:30 p.m. Homer, locked in as the No. 2 seed from the Mid Alaska Conference, travels to Chugiak for a nonconference game.
Seward at Nikiski, 5 p.m. Friday
It’s been a weird year for both of these members of the Denali Conference.
The conference is supposed to have five teams, but both Monroe Catholic and Valdez could not field teams this year. That meant some bye weeks for the Seahawks and Bulldogs, plus other weeks where an open slot was filled by a JV team.
The tough year makes this finale all the more special. Perhaps one good thing about the lighter schedule is that both teams find themselves healthy as this big Week 8 contest approaches.
“We’re excited,” Seward head coach Tyler Mallory said. “You dream of this. This is what football is about. We’re excited to go play.”
Both Nikiski and Seward defeated Eielson, so both come into this clash at 1-0 in the league. Nikiski is 2-2 overall, while Seward is 1-5 overall.
In addition to the conference title, the rivalry Fish Bowl will be decided. The longtime rivals just started the Fish Bowl four years ago, and Nikiski has won it every time.
“We’re excited to have the opportunity to bring it home,” Mallory said.
Nikiski won a nonconference game 32-22 between the two teams in Week 2. The game was played in a heavy Seward rain and featured a number of turnovers.
“There wasn’t anything they ran that day that’s new, and we haven’t changed much either,” Mallory said. “It’s going to be which player makes more plays and which team plays more physical football.”
Nikiski head coach Matt Trammell agreed. The Bulldogs threw a scare into Homer before losing 46-36 in Week 7 by possessing the ball and keeping it on the ground, and that won’t change this week.
“We’re a simple team,” Trammell said. “We won’t pull rabbits out of a hat or anything like that. We’re going to focus on doing our jobs.”
The Seward coach said his offensive line will by key. Also, the coach said his team must get off the field on third and fourth down to keep Nikiski from possessing the ball for long stretches.
Trammell said his team will have to be disciplined on defense and offense. He said his squad’s style of play doesn’t work as well when the team gets behind on the scoreboard or with the down markers.
The Nikiski coach also said his seniors will be recognized as part of the game.
Soldotna at Eagle River, 1 p.m. Saturday
Galen Brantley Jr. is one win from claiming all 15 Northern Lights Conference titles since he became head coach in 2007. There was no NLC title in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The Stars are 3-0 in the league and 7-0 overall after toppling Wasilla 48-14 in Week 7.
Brantley Jr. said his defensive starters tossed an impressive shutout against an explosive Wasilla offense. Inside linebacker Wyatt Faircloth set the tone with a fumble return for touchdown, while Brantley Jr. said Joe Whittom also had a great game at inside linebacker.
The coach added that Zac Buckbee and Zeek Miller did a great job at cornerback, while Elijah Lee and Luke Miller put constant pressure on the quarterback from the defensive line.
Offensively, Soldotna punted for the first time this season, but Brantley Jr. said the offense was great other than that.
All signs were pointing to Eagle River also being undefeated in the conference for this clash, but the Wolves were upset by Chugiak 16-14 in Week 7. Eagle River is 2-1 and 4-3.
“We feel like if we come out and play well we’ll be able to take care of business and put ourselves in a position to host a playoff game,” Brantley Jr. said. “We can’t come out and have a bad outing like they did last week to put their season in jeopardy.”
This will also be senior night. Brantley Jr. said it’s a smaller senior class this year, but one that persevered through two years of COVID to make it this far.
Barrow at Kenai Central, 4 p.m. Saturday
With Houston locked in as the top seed in the Mid Alaska Conference, and Homer locked in at No. 2, the Whalers and Kardinals will face off for the third slot.
Both teams are 1-2 in the conference, while Kenai is 4-3 overall and Barrow is 3-2 overall.
The Kardinals are coming off a 40-6 loss to Houston in Week 6 in which the Kards didn’t turn the ball over and played clean football, but were overpowered at the line of scrimmage.
The trick is to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen against the Whalers.
“There’s no way there’s small kids playing football up in Barrow,” Kenai head coach Jake Brand said after the loss to Houston. “So we better get ready.”
The Kenai coach said the Whalers are a brand-new opponent to him. Kenai had Barrow on its schedule the last two years, but neither game happened due to COVID.
Before COVID, Barrow was on a roll, winning the Division III state title in 2017 and finishing second in 2018 and 2019. The Whalers have been gathering steam since getting to play regular games again this year.
The Kardinals will honor the more than 20 seniors.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors and we’re going to do it after the game,” Brand said. “So if you’re a Kardinals fan, come out and send these seniors off the right way.”
Homer at Chugiak, 7:30 p.m. Friday
The Mariners (5-2 overall) will look to regain some momentum before the Division III playoffs by facing off against the Division II Mustangs (3-4).
“I like being tested heading into the playoffs,” Homer head coach Justin Zank said. “It’s good for us to find different ways to win ballgames.”
In Week 7, Homer escaped with a 46-36 win over Nikiski.
“I told the coach after the game that they whooped our butt physically,” Zank said. “They won the line of scrimmage for sure.”
Zank said the Mariners came into the game wanting to win the physical battle and to eliminate mistakes. He said the team did not do either.
Zank said Homer has a chance to do better against the Mustangs, who are coming off a big victory over rival Eagle River. Chugiak also will celebrate senior night and homecoming on what promises to be a charged night.
“Their defense is playing really solid,” Zank said. “They have that big win against Eagle River. It’s going to be tough, really tough.”